A Lavender Christmas

The Gay Menís Chorus of Houston sings out for Santa Claus and the baby Jesus

Mommy gets it how she can -- and Mommy's in the mood for a big, big man! the soloist sings, belting out a Liza Minnelli-style lounge act. Mommy thinks you're awful cute. Santa, show me what's beneath the suit!

In the Hello Dolly! version of "We Three Kings," three guys wearing feathered gold lamé crowns dance around the stage. Described as three "biblical beauties" a-knocking at the stable door, they scream, We're not kings, we're queens!

Later they reach the grand finale, the Christmas cheer. Three cheerleaders run on in short shorts -- they wanted pleated skirts and panties but couldn't get them in time.

Deron Neblett

James Knapp conducts with the intensity of a cartoon maestro.
Deron Neblett
James Knapp conducts with the intensity of a cartoon maestro.

We're gonna go go go, underneath the mistletoe, they forcefully sing. Yule! Boola, boola, boola, yule!

James's voice cracks when he thanks the choir for filling a void in his life and giving him back his song. Board member Ryan Raser thanks James for giving the choir back its future. Last year they sold a total of about 350 tickets; this year they sold close to 1,000. Tuesday night's performance is sold out, the balcony is packed, and people are standing in the back.

Before the final show, James hands a personal letter to each of the choir members thanking them for the opportunity and the honor of working with them. He reads aloud fan mail he received after Saturday's and Sunday's shows and asks everyone to hold hands. They stand in a campfire circle, and James tells them to feel the warmth.

The men jog onstage for the second act wearing ski sweaters and jeans. A gentle flute plays as the ensemble sings "Silent Night." Couples in the audience sway to the music. James starts to cry.

After the church fired him, James applied for choral director jobs at other major churches in Houston and across the country. Initially everyone seemed interested and impressed with his résumé. He has finished all but his dissertation for his doctorate of musical arts at the University of Texas, and studied at the Mozarteum Conservatory in Salzburg. In addition to his seven successful years at the Sugar Land church, he served as the director of choral activities at Aurora University near Chicago. He's conducted the Moscow Philharmonic and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and led choral worships in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Thailand and Singapore.

James went on interviews, but once the mainstream churches found out he was gay, they turned him down. "I was blackballed," James says. Being outed and cast out from the church led James to select "Am I Welcome Here," the newest song on the program. Commissioned this year by the Seattle and Cincinnati men's choirs, it's a song about a gay man's struggles with the church.

A balding baritone steps forward; unlike other soloists, he doesn't need the mike. His deep, rich voice fills the deadly quiet room:

It's midnight on Christmas Eve. The dark sparkles with snow.
I'm walking home the long way, through streets I don't know.
I'm thinking of the church I loved many years ago.
And as I walk, I start to sing, "Noel, Noel, Noel."
I sing to bless the newborn king, "Noel, Noel, Noel."
Can you hear me, God? Sometimes I can't tell.
This is all I have to bring: "Noel, Noel, Noel."

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